Armenian Bible Church            

Հայ Աստուածաշունչի Եկեղեցի

Mailing Address:  P.O. Box 40322  Pasadena, CA 91114 USA

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By Thomas Cosmades


Chapter 26 


             Foreboding days lay ahead. The Turkish army was pushing westward. The presence of the Greek army in Anatolia was shriveling. People wanted to believe the contrary, but desolate signs were everywhere. What later came to be known in the annals of Greek history as ‘The Great Catastrophe’ was unfolding. A new move was on Aneta’s and Anastasia’s agenda, this time to the land of golden opportunities.  Millions of expelled and dispossessed people from everywhere found a new home for themselves in America.   In 1921, a year before the final defeat of the Greek army, the two women left Anatolia for good.  The land of Aneta’s birth and marriage, followed by untold suffering, was left behind. The remains of her dear husband were lying in an unmarked grave anticipating the glorious resurrection day.

             After a brief voyage from Izmir to Piraeus, Aneta had a big surprise when she arrived in Athens.  Her long search for her brother-in-law in America with whom she had no contact was finally rewarded.  A cousin traced his whereabouts in the United States and related to him all the happenings of the past years.  Of course, he had no knowledge of the execution of his brother in Anatolia, or of the details which had brought grief to millions of people. His heart was deeply touched and he said, “I must bring my mother and sister-in-law to America.”  He immediately mailed a check for six hundred dollars, along with an invitation to the women.  Aneta’s father in Patras who had been greatly concerned for his daughter was overjoyed.  Also Haralambos’ wish before his death for her not to continue to live in Turkey was being fulfilled.  There were certain formalities to attend to; while in Athens she took care of everything at the American Embassy.  The ship was to sail from Patras.  In August 1921 they boarded Cunard Lines’ S/S Passonia and waved their final farewell to Greece.  This small country had become a haven to numerous refugees who had fled Turkey.  The women were in the company of a few friends, all traveling to New York.  The weather was very beautiful so they enjoyed the voyage immensely. 

            After twenty-one days, the Statue of Liberty came into view.  On it was inscribed a special welcome to all who came to start a new life. The whole scene before her was a balm to Aneta’s bereaved soul. At the time of their arrival, the influx of refugees was at its height.  In those days, anyone with an invitation from a relative was accepted into the country. The brother-in-law, Yacovos (James), was there to greet them.  Their joy was indescribable, as was the case of all other weary passengers upon meeting their loved ones.  Yacovos immediately informed them that there was a new rule that each immigrant had to spend an unspecified time in Ellis Island for thorough screening and examination.  Only American citizens returning from Europe would be let into the country without waiting.  He decided to hire a lawyer for them to help expedite their case. Life on Ellis Island in New York Harbor made a grim, but colorful picture as people from every part of Europe and the Middle East converged on the New World. A vast variety of languages and diversity of practices distinguished this small piece of land from any other place in the world.

               The long years of poverty, suffering and endless agonies had left their deep imprint on faces. Apprehension due to the uprooting from home and country was evident in people’s expressions. Aneta was deeply dismayed when she saw a large number of refugees sent back because of some health condition or lack of invitation and visa. Having been with so many refugees during and after the war, the scene evoked deep emotions as she pondered the future of those destitute people.

            Aneta thought, “What better place could there be than here, to show the love and compassion of Christ?” Deep in her heart she determined to stay there for some time with her mother-in-law in order to offer service for Jesus. But the officials entertained no tender spot in their hearts for this sort of request. They did not even want to hear it. “Lady,” said one of them, “when your turn comes, you move out of here. We’re not interested in that sort of business.”  The rule was that the passengers of each ship would be let in after the previous ship’s passengers had been processed.  It happened that the S/S Passonia docked just five minutes after a huge ship carrying many passengers came into port.  The Passonia passengers were escorted into a large hall with an adjoining dining room.  There were all sorts of food, but people didn’t feel much like eating.  Then Aneta saw something which appalled her. The uneaten food on the table was dumped overboard into the sea.  Like a flash, her mind fled back to the starving refugees during the Armenian deportation.

            A guide took the group to a huge washroom with hot and cold running water.  They had the luxury of taking showers before they rested for the night.  Their so-called sleeping room was furnished with iron bunk beds without blankets or pillows.  As they entered this room each person was given a set of blankets, one to lie on and the other to cover him/herself.  Then the guard locked them in for the night.  As if in a contest, forty-five people ran to grab the upper bunks.  For a whole month this was a kind of ‘home’ for these people.  The law stated that all doctors, nurses, teachers, priests and ministers were not compelled to stay on Ellis Island; they could leave immediately. 

            In the meantime, Yacovos was visiting them regularly.  He was not happy with the conditions there, so he reported the situation to different newspapers.  This was the beginning of a general concern to change the setup.  European countries sent representatives to investigate.  Following all this publicity, the laws were gradually relaxed and Ellis Island was no longer considered a place of strict confinement for incoming refugees. This all happened before the Greek catastrophe in Smyrna, when thousands of refugees poured into America.  During their month-long stay, Aneta distributed portions of Scriptures in several languages which she had brought with her.  She had already given out Scriptures to passengers on the transatlantic voyage.  She was able to strike up conversations with folks who spoke one of the three languages she knew. People who had little to occupy themselves with listened respectfully. One of these was a young Greek man by the name of Constantine George, quite athletic in appearance, a newcomer from Greece.  His aim was to make a fortune in the United States. He was relating to whoever would listen his spectacular dreams for the brilliant life he had in mind for himself. Aneta gave him a Gospel of Luke in Greek.  He had never seen the Scriptures until then. He listened to Aneta’s witness, but before long he left the island, getting lost in the crowd of those eager to seek their fortune in their new country. 

            Two years later, Aneta met this vibrant young man in Boston. He had gone into confectionary business with good success.  As soon as he saw Aneta, he said, “You’re the woman who gave me that Gospel of Luke. I want you to know that I read it with great interest.  After I came to Boston the Russelites found me and began influencing me. I got my first Bible from them. But their teaching did not touch my heart so I soon disowned them. Later, I met Paul Yphantis who headed up a Greek mission. He led me to Christ.” Constantine George eventually became an elder in the Greek Evangelical Church of Boston. He was always ready to give a lively witness to the people he daily came in contact with. He also made it a point to channel part of his profits to Christian workers in Greece.

            Aneta left Ellis Island a very sick woman with a high fever.  She and Anastasia traveled to Boston by train where Yacovos and his American wife met them at the station and took them home. Aneta was immediately put to bed, suffering from a terrible earache.  When the doctor came he told her that it was caused by an abscess. After a few days of treatment, she was on the road to recovery.  Her sister-in-law was very kind to these two needy women.   

         As soon as she recovered Aneta’s interest switched to finding Armenian newcomers. These refugees were remnants of decimated Armenian families. They knew no English; most of them didn’t even speak their own Armenian. The only language they knew was Turkish, so ministering to them in a language they could understand was a delightful experience for Aneta − and for them!  Soon a hall in the heart of Boston was acquired for their meetings.  Aneta and her mother-in-law were able to rent a room nearby.  Among the refugees, Aneta met many old friends from Aintab.  Her ministry advanced encouragingly.  Once she was invited by the Armenians in Philadelphia to minister to them, too, and another time to New York.  Interestingly, the invitation from New York was from a man who happened to have been one of the last students from the Bible school in Aintab.  He became like a son to Aneta in her new country. 

            While she was preparing to leave for New York, she was offered a job at the Social Services Department in Boston.  Because of her education and knowledge of languages, her prospective employers were eager to utilize her services.  However this offer had to wait until her return.